Austin, TX to become NFC test city

Want to be among the first in the country to pay for your groceries with your cell phone?

Then hopefully you live in or are planning to visit Austin, Texas.

Austin joins fellow city Salt Lake City in the short list that a joint venture called ISIS has been able to court into promoting NFC (Near Field Communication) payments.

ISIS is a venture between AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon to promote mobile payment technology. Part of its mission is to spread awareness and get the technology out there.

The group calls Austin and Salt Lake City “initial launch markets” for city-wide NFC payment acceptance. Under the proposal, the cities will provide merchants with special credit card terminals that can accept payment both with a traditional credit card swipe but also by a customer waving their cell phone over the terminal.

The technology is the same as many current credit cards, each of which uses a different name. For Visa, it’s Paywave; for Discover, it’s Discover Zip; Mastercard calls it Paywave; and American Express uses the moniker Express Pay.

However, the same chips that power those cards are soon to be introduced to smartphones in the US – including Nokia’s upcoming N9 phone – which could be the biggest advancement in point-of-sale payments since the introduction of credit cards.

There’s potential for specialized third-party apps, new methods of payment, and and remote sales where traditional credit card terminals aren’t feasible. Some of the ideas for NFC apps include letting users automatically split payments between multiple credit cards, getting instant, detailed transaction info, and billing your mobile carrier instead of a credit card provider.

There are other possibilities for NFC down the road as well, like potentially letting customers wave their phones to “check-in” to a store and receive discounts, using smartphones as virtual hotel keys, and allowing multiple NFC phone owners to interact with each other.

The ISIS rollout is expected to begin in early 2012.